Fast Track At The Reno Air Races; Look Up For Spectacular Photo Ops

The Reno Air Races are one of the city's most exciting events to see and photograph. These races have been run since 1964. This year's event will take place September 13th-17th at Reno Stead Field, eight miles north of town. It is a fun and successful happening with spectacular photo ops.

The Reno Air Races are similar to photographing a car race, with a few big differences. Both have a finish line with a checkered flag and prize money. Car races, on the other hand, usually feature one type of car. The Reno Air Races feature a variety of planes all in one place. Each class takes turns flying throughout the day.

World War II planes in Reno Air Races turning at pylon.

Thunderbird Jets together in clouds.
All Photos © 2006, Brad Perks, All Rights Reserved

There are million dollar Mustangs from World War II. You can photograph rare antique planes that have been beautifully restored. The sports class consists of kit-built high-performance aircraft. There are biplanes with an open cockpit and stunt planes, too. The Thunderbird Jets, a precision flying team like the Blue Angels, were at the show when I attended. People enjoy the air races, flying exhibitions, and photographing the old planes up close. Planes are also parked on the tarmac where you can get some detail shots.

The racetrack is different than at car races. Planes fly around pylons set up in the countryside. A portion of the racecourse is along the runway where spectators gather in grandstands. Vintage planes do a low altitude flyby so you can appreciate their beauty in the air. It is a great time to shoot solo portraits of the planes.

Restored antique plane at Reno Air Races.

A 200mm lens gets you right into the action. I like to fill the frame. I found it easier to have my camera on a tripod when zoomed in tight. I place the tripod head adjustments on a setting that requires firm pressure to move the camera. It gives me a smooth, steady motion when I am tracking the planes. Pan along during the approach so you get a few shots of each aircraft as they pass the runway.

Acrobatic stunt planes also perform in the airspace in front of the grandstands. I hand hold these shots since the planes are looping, twisting, and spinning through the air. Many stunt planes perform as groups, so you can also compose with a wider angle of view. Exhibition smoke trailing from the planes makes interesting patterns in pictures. It lets you know where the plane has been before the picture was taken.

Thunderbird Jet in clouds flying by the grandstands.

I found that the Thunderbird Jets are the most challenging to shoot. They perform farther away from the grandstands for the safety of the crowds. I use a 400mm f/5.6 lens to pull the Jets into the frame. My top speed with ISO 50 Velvia is usually 1/350 sec. I do not hand hold this lens. I could see the picture shaking as I panned along with the fast action.